Have A Cunning Plan
Have you spent the winter wondering what it would be like to trek through the northern hills of Thailand on an elephant? Or sand board down the gigantic dunes of the Omani interior? Maybe your commuting hours have been filled with iconic travel images, stampeding bulls in Pamplona or the thumping rhythms of the Rio carnival. Or perhaps, just before you drop off to sleep, you hanker after the orange glow of an African sunset. If this is happening to you, you’re suffering from traveller’s itch. It’s a persistent affliction that can’t be entirely cured by a two-week package tour. The most effective treatment is to plan a trip of a lifetime. You need to do a little planning though.
You know how the old cliché goes; fail to plan and you plan to fail. This observation will, of course, be of no consolation to you whatsoever if you find yourself squeezed between two hefty border guards, waving goodbye to your Beijing bound train, from a station platform on the eastern edge of Siberia, simply because you forgot to register your Russian visa. So, where’s the best place to start?
Most people have their dream trip squirreled away in their brain, in the file marked “One Day.” Leave it there for a moment. The best place to start planning is with an honest self-appraisal.
Do you have the level of fitness required to trek through the Amazonian rainforest? If you don’t are you willing to get fit before you go? Don’t even think about it if you dislike spiders. Are you planning to travel alone or with others? If it’s with other people, will everyone’s interests be aligned? Travelling with a friend on the Trans-Siberian Express might sound like fun, but it takes seven days. Your luxurious first class sleeping compartment can quickly become a 10′ X 8′ cell if your friend discovers, after a couple of days, that train journeys aren’t really very hunting trip insurance at all.
Budget and Time
After your self-appraisal you need to consider two more things: money and time. Again, be realistic. Discount that camel safari across the Namibian desert if you only have five days free and to spend. A trip of a lifetime can be done in a weekend and it doesn’t have to break the bank. Think laterally.
OK, by now you should have a rough budget, you know the amount of time you have available, and you’ve discounted Gibraltar on account of your morbid fear of apes. Now its time to open the filing cabinet marked “One Day.” Is your original idea still worth pursuing, or should you be looking at alternatives? Whichever it is, you now need to do some research. This can be fun, almost like doing the journey itself, and there are lots of websites that will help you. The most obvious are TripAdvisor or Lonely Planet but there are plenty of others that will specialise in the area you’re interested in. Spend a bit of time trawling through them.
However, don’t start salivating over the majesty of the Taj Mahal or the vastness of the Grand Canyon until you check out the mundane stuff. What are the visa requirements? Do you qualify? Is obtaining one bureaucratic? If you can only travel next week, and the visa takes two weeks to organise, cross that option off your list.
What should drop out of the bottom of this pre-planning exercise is a dream holiday that you have time to do, and can actually afford. Draw up a draft itinerary, quickly – before you change your mind. Then draw up another list detailing the tasks you have to undertake to deliver the itinerary. Make sure it’s in a logical order, for example, never buy tickets or accommodation without getting the visas first.
So, now you’ve made a decision on where to go. What next?
Well, the good news is, it doesn’t matter if its an overland trip through South America, or a long weekend in Paris, there are only three things to concentrate on when planning a trip; time, budget, and available resources. Decisions you make on each, impact on the other. Lets look at them in reverse order.
The simple equation here is, the more you do yourself the less resources you need. For example, there is no need to employ a travel agent when you can just as easily book a train, or find a hotel on the Internet. But then again, their local knowledge may actually save you money and time. And if you use a specialist travel agent they can often assist with other things, like visa applications, for example. You have to find a balance that’s right for you and your budget. Offer a selection of specialist travel agencies your itinerary and ask them for a quote to organise it. You might be surprised how competitive they can be.
Try to pre-book the accommodation, irrespective of who does the bookings, and arrive at each destination at a reasonable hour. It can be confusing enough arriving in a strange city without doing so at three in the morning after twenty hours of non-stop travel. If possible get the accommodation you’ve booked to meet you. Many will do this at little or no cost. By so doing you’ll avoid running the gauntlet of taxi and accommodation touts that tend to hunt in packs around stations and airports.